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EU Prioritises Schengen Expansion With Bulgaria, Despite Border Human Rights Violations, Report Says


February 28, 2024


Credits @FFHR.CZ



KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • The EU Border Agency and the EU Commission are aware of Bulgaria's human rights violations on its border with Türkiye, yet the EU prioritises expanding the Schengen Zone.

  • Dozens of internal documents obtained by BIRN under EU Freedom of Information Rules highlight these concerns.

  • A report received by Frontex's Fundamental Rights Office in August 2022 also addressed these violations.


The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and the European Commission are aware of Bulgaria’s authorities’ violation of human rights on the latter’s shared border with Türkiye, but the European Union prioritises the further expansion of the Schengen Zone.

Such claims arise from a report by an unnamed Frontex officer that reached the Fundamental Rights Office, FRO, the internal human rights watchdog of the border agency, in August 2022, obtained by BIRN, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.


In addition, dozens of internal Frontex and European Commission documents given to BIRN under EU Freedom of Information Rules when it comes to grave human rights violations on Bulgaria’s borders also reported such violations.


It has been suggested that allegedly … they leave them naked and take all of their belongings,” reads one line of the report. Another spoke of asylum seekers being forced to swim back to Türkiye, even if they do not have the skills or strength to do it.

Reported an unnamed Frontex officer.




The same report reveals that the majority of migrants and refugees are from the Middle East, North Africa, or Asia, and the same are sometimes reportedly bitten by police dogs or shot at.


However, in spite of the widespread occurrence of these practices, according to the author, migrants are not fingerprinted or asked for basic information, nor are there any recording reports documenting such actions. This information has been confirmed to the author during conversations with a total of ten Bulgarian border officers.


The report also noted that Frontex border guards are intentionally kept away from “hot points” where such pushbacks may happen.


They [Bulgarian border officers] have instructions not to allow FRONTEX to see anything, or they would have to do an official report.

Report by unnamed Frontex officer




Accused of Similar Violations, Croatia Still Joined Schengen in January 2023


Croatia had been accused of similar violations before joining the Schengen Area on January 1, 2023. At the time, some human rights and humanitarian organisations had raised concerns over potential breaches of international human rights law by authorities in Croatia.


The latter had been accused of consistently denying access to territory and asylum to refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants and engaging in collective expulsions, including violent pushbacks.


Between early August and the end of November 2022, 1,395 people reported having been illegally pushed back from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina.


By the end of the same year, Bulgaria had claimed to have prevented 160,000 migrants from entering the EU, while as many as 165,000 “illegal entry attempts” were prevented only between January and October 2023.



Irregular Migration Concerns Have Impeded Bulgaria’s Schengen Accession to This Point


Under irregular migration concerns, Austria and the Netherlands blocked Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen Area in December 2022.


However, the Balkan country will partially become part of the EU’s borderless area by air and sea from March, while Vienna continues to maintain its veto when it comes to land border accession.


In September 2022, Sofia signed an Operational Plan with the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) in order to increase the capacity of the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) to implement the Temporary Protection Directive through improvement in the reception and provision of information, among others.


Such a plan was extended until June 2023, while a new one was signed in July 2023 in order to offer support in all stages of international protection procedure, taking into account providing interpretation services for rare languages. The Plan is set to continue until December 31, 2024.






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